All We Like Sheep

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 78: 52-54

52Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.

We tend to think of the wilderness as a place where we are sort of thrown out into virtually alone. We imagine wandering, looking for solace, looking for companionship, looking for someone to help us out of where we are. We search for God as if God is somehow parked at the exit of the wilderness holding a sign with our name on it as we disembark. And yet this psalm reminds us that even in the wilderness we are not alone, that God leads us and guides us through the treacherous terrain. There are times when God, as it says, guides us IN, wandering, living the wilderness. It says that we are led to safety and brought to a place that is holy, that is of God. So, why then, here in the wilderness, do we feel so alone?

We are accustomed to pastoral images in the Bible, beautiful images of the flock being led or shepherds on the hillside. We know what it is supposed to connote. The shepherd guides the sheep to the place where they will be well-fed and cared for, the place where they will grow and flourish into maturity. There is soft, green grass, blue skies, and other sheep in the fold to keep them company as they grow together. But this is not what it looks like right now. Where is the green grass? Where are the blue skies? Where are my trusty companions? And so, searching for our image of where a shepherd is supposed to lead, we leave to look for greener pastures or easier pathways. But the grass isn’t really greener, the skies really aren’t any clearer, and in our confusion, we fall, tumbling down the gulley, bruised and tired.

As we have said before, the wilderness is not just something to rush through. God does not always lead us out of the desolation that surrounds us. As the passage says, God leads us through or in the wilderness, helping us navigate the rough paths and the difficult sightlines and, when the time is right, bringing us home. Our problem is that we don’t envision ourselves like sheep because we are trying so hard to be the shepherd of our own lives, to be in control, to be the guide. We are afraid of losing control of our lives. And so, we often wander away and get lost. We may end up in a place that is not ours to be. But think about sheep. Sheep are seldom characterized as one of the smartest beings on the farm and yet, sheep know to whom they belong. Sheep know how to follow. Sheep know how to be part of a flock, holding each other up, helping each other see the shepherd. And when, as happens every now and then, a sheep gets lost, the sheep trusts that the shepherd will come and bring the sheep home.

Lent is a season that teaches us to be more like sheep, to follow God through the wilderness, learning the things that it teaches, accepting the things that it offers, and knowing, that, when it is time, God will guide us out of this lostness, out of despair, out of the loneliness.  You don’t have to fix it; you don’t have to hurry; you don’t have to make it something it is not.  Just follow.  Just live.  But by following God’s lead, we will see beauty we have never seen and companionship we have never known.  That’s what you get when you’re part of a flock. The promise is that, when the time is right, we WILL be led home.

God…leads us step by step, from event to event.  Only afterwards, as we look back over the way we have come and reconsider certain important moments in our lives in the light of all that has followed them, or when we survey the whole progress of our lives, do we experience the feeling of having been led without knowing it, the feeling that God has mysteriously guided us. (Paul Tournier)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Entering This Wilderness Week

?????????????Scripture Text:  Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

Here we are—bustling city, Passover festival, and a parade!  It seems that we’re not in the wilderness anymore!  As Jesus comes into Jerusalem, there is excitement and joy.  He is here!  And they honor him.  But, to be honest, we probably read a little bit more into this parade than is there.  From the time I was little, I had this sense that Jesus came into the middle of the city, flanked by the all of the crowds.  He was “it.”  (But then it didn’t make much sense as to why it went so badly so fast.)  The truth is, Jesus was not “it” in Jerusalem.  Jesus was heading what was then a small fledgling movement on the outskirts of established religion.  He was coming down a narrow road that winds down Mt. Olivet and was then entering through the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the “back door” of the city, for all practical purposes.  Hmmm!  It seems that Jesus makes a habit of coming in the back door—into forgotten grottos and wilderness baptisms and ministries that begin around a lake rather than a Holy City.  So this seems only fitting.  Maybe that’s the point.  God doesn’t always enter in the way we expect, doesn’t always show up when it fits the best into our schedule.  Instead, God slips in through the back door of our wilderness lives when we sometimes barely notice and makes a home with us.

So the onlookers stay around for just a little while.  And then the parade fizzles.  As the road goes by the Garden of Gethsemane and down toward Bethany and the outer walls of Jerusalem, many leave and go back to their lives.  Maybe they had something to do; maybe they didn’t want to contend with all the holiday traffic in downtown Jerusalem; or maybe they were afraid of what might happen. So Jesus enters the gate of the city almost alone, save for a few of the disciples.

Where are we in this moment?  Jerusalem is here.  The wilderness through which we’ve traveled is behind us.  But it has prepared us for a new wilderness of sorts.  As followers, we know that the road is not easy.  It will wind through this week with the shouts of “Crucify him” becoming louder and louder.  The road is steep and uneven.  And the shouting stones and clanging iron against wood will be deafening.  But this is the way—the way to peace, the way to knowing God.  This is our road; this is our Way; this is the procession to life.  The way to the Cross, through the wilderness of this week is our Way to Life.

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass.. it’s about learning to dance in the rain. (Vivian Greene)

FOR TODAY: Keep walking. Keep following. There is no way around. Walk with Jesus all the way to the Cross. For there, you will find life.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli